10 tips for working in SEN schools

Posted on July 20, 2017 by Kay Morgan-Gurr
Categories: SEN,

Kay Morgan-Gurr, Chair of Children Matter, has years of experience working with children and young people with additional needs. In this post she shares some brilliant tips for working in SEN schools.

People often ask advice on how to do an assembly/collective worship or lessons in specialist schools for children or young people who have additional needs. This is either because they have been invited to go there by the head teacher or they feel called to offer their services to them. Many of these schools are appreciative of any offer of services or support.

In some senses there are more similarities than there are differences in what to do, and just like many main stream schools there can be a vast difference between the needs and abilities of the pupils there.

These 'specialist' schools come in many shapes and sizes and cater for either one or more specialised group, or a range of needs within a specific category. Therefore, it is impossible to give specific advice that will cover every eventuality!

Where I live we have an academy school for children and young people with physical disabilities. I would do an assembly or lesson there with little difference to what I would do in a main stream school, just taking a little more care with how I apply the teaching and the language I use. For some, the Bible may be considered offensive in the way it uses disability metaphor, such as 'Blind to…' meaning ignored or didn’t see something. So, care should be taken with that in specialist schools and any school we go into.

Many authorities now will have specialist units within mainstream schools, or link a local school with a specialist one so their pupils can attend the link school for a day or two during the week. Chances are, you may have some of those children in your regular school assemblies and collective worship. 

 Because every specialist school can be so different, what I'm going to do is just give some basic helpful hints. Some of these hints should also be useful if you have children with additional needs in the mainstream schools you regularly visit.

  1. Find out what needs the school caters for and learn more about those needs. Ask about any other needs the school have that you or a local church could partner and help with.
  2. Spend a day or a couple of half days with the school to get a feel for their ethos and the children. Take plenty of time to build relationship with the staff and the pupils - more than you would in any other school.
  3. Take advice from teachers on what to use, and what not to use. In some schools you may find noise levels and interactions will be much higher than you are used to in an assembly or lesson, so ask advice on where to draw the line and how to deal with the unhelpful interruptions.
  4. Give advance warning of what you are going to do. Some children may need preparing for seeing puppets, unusual visual aids, doing active responses. Also, if you are telling a story that requires a spoken/shouted response, pupils who use electronic talkers will then have time to input the response ready.
  5. Try to avoid allegory, and use clear literal language in short sentences. Try not to speak at 100 miles an hour and add in time for the pupils to process what you've said at regular intervals.
  6. Make sure visual aids have an obvious link to what you are saying and don’t require too much explanation. Literal thinkers often struggle with this.
  7. If you use music, allow the teachers to set the volume for you, and give warning of any loud, sudden or repetitive noise.
  8. When interacting with pupils, give direct eye contact, but don’t demand it in return - interact at the level set by the pupil. Never be afraid to say you didn’t understand something or ask for help in translating indistinct speech - don’t pretend you understood. This shows you value what is being said to the point you will seek help to hear it.
  9. Learn some basic Makaton greetings. https://www.makaton.org/shop/s...
  10. Don't shy away from the 'healing stories', but be wise in your application. There is often a lot to learn aside from the act of healing.

When it comes to the support these schools get from the Christian community, it is very low compared to other schools. If you don't go into any specialist schools, why not consider it?

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